Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this morning that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty. Speaking at the start of a special cabinet session convened in the Golan Heights, Netanyahu said he had told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the same thing in a phone call the day before.
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“Whatever happens on the other side of the border, the line is not going to change,” Netanyahu stated at the start of the cabinet meeting. “The time has come after 50 years for the international community to acknowledge that the Golan Heights will permanently remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Netanyahu made this declaration about the Golan Heights as UN-sponsored international efforts are being made to obtain a political accord to end the civil war in Syria. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office say that Syrian President Assad demanded that one principle upon which the international talks will be based is that the Golan Heights be considered occupied territory that must be returned to Syria.
On Thursday, Netanyahu will fly to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu’s senior aides say the prime minister plans to bring up this issue at their meeting and to stress the same message to Putin.
At the cabinet meeting, the prime minister stated emphatically that the Golan Heights was an integral part of the Land of Israel in ancient times and part of Israel in the modern age.
“In the 19 years that the Golan Heights was under Syrian occupation, it was used for bunkers, barbed wire fences and war,” Netanyahu said. “In the 49 years that the Golan has been under Israeli rule, it has been used for agriculture, tourism, economics and peace. In the turbulent region that surrounds us, Israel is the stabilizing factor. It is the solution and not the problem. Many nations in the region recognize this.” Netanyahu also said that Israel will continue to work to maintain security and quiet on the northern border. “In the event that we are attacked, we will respond with great forcefulness against our enemies,” he said.
Netanyahu said the reason for holding the cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights was to send the message that this area will forever remain in Israel’s hands. “Israel will never leave the Golan Heights,” said Netanyahu, despite having conducted negotiations with the Syrian government during his first and second terms as prime minister about a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. “The Golan Heights has a population of 50,000 and there are thousands more families who will be arriving in the coming years, and we will continue to strengthen the settlement here.”
Netanyahu said that he told Secretary of State Kerry that he was very doubtful that Syria would ever return to the way it once was. “In Syria there are persecuted minorities like the Christians, Druze and Kurds who are justly fighting for their future,” the prime minister said. “And at the same time in Syria there are terrorist elements, chiefly ISIS, Iran and Hezbollah, that seek to impose radical Islam on Syria and the region and ultimately on the whole world. I told Kerry that we would not oppose a political accord in Syria if it does not come at the expense of Israel’s security – and that at the end of the day, the forces of Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS will be ousted from Syrian territory.”